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VJ Day Remembered

VJ Day Remembered by Sue Blackman, the daughter of Colonel Cecil Hunt. Sue shares what she remembers of her father’s homecoming in late 1945.

My father, Colonel Cecil Hunt, a staff officer in the Malaya Command, was taken prisoner by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942.  He had arrived on the island only eleven weeks earlier and had been promoted to full colonel on 3 January.

News of the Japanese surrender, and their consequent freedom, reached the prisoners on 17 August 1945.  It was an enormous task to bring all the prisoners home from the Far East. The sick were flown out, but for most of the others, it was the autumn of that year before they arrived on home ground.

At 11 am on the morning of 5 November 1945 the liner Queen Elizabeth drew into Southampton docks. Although our parents had each written diaries they had no need to record this day in writing, so I shall tell what I know about it.  I was nine years old, and my brother Tim was fourteen.

An enormous crowd had gathered at the dockside, and as Dad anxiously scanned the sea of excited faces, a colleague drew his attention to a small figure waving madly at him just below.  Our mother had been taken to meet the ship by our uncle, Stuart Bedells, a naval officer who had managed to gain entry for her in front of the official reception area.  And there she was, he told us, so young, just as he had remembered her.

Not all wives had remained faithful to their prisoner husbands.  A few had not, and the sadness of those homecomings can only be imagined. For our parents, the love story never faltered. Granny had thoughtfully booked a hotel room for them to spend some time together before the excitement of the family reunion. Tim remembers feeling surprised by this delay, as the journey to Granny’s house in Southsea was so short, and he had expected them to come straight home.  Understanding came later.

Tim and I had been taken out of school to join Granny and Auntie Nell at Granny’s house.  Here we all had our instructions: Tim was posted on the windowsill as a lookout, and as soon as we heard the doorbell Auntie Nell and I were to run in the opposite direction to the old wind-up gramophone in the breakfast room, to put on the George Formby song for the troops “Bless ‘em All”.  This inspired planning allowed Granny precedence and relieved Dad from facing an overwhelming crowd on the doorstep.

Dad had hoped that he would not be a stranger to his children.  He need not have worried.  His photograph had been on permanent view at our temporary home Mill Cottage in the Forest of Dean, with a sprig of lucky white heather in its frame.  We had written letters, and even though many did not reach him, he was much in our thoughts.  I would often say in all innocence to our mother, “Won’t it be nice when Daddy comes home!” And I wonder to this day how she managed to answer without a catch in her voice. We had waited for this day – I shall never forget the sound of that important doorbell.  If there was hugging and kissing I don’t remember it, but he seemed to say all the right things to us.  Admiring my cherished teddy bear was an instant winner with me.  All I remember of the rest of that day is my jaw aching from smiling so continuously from ear to ear.

I fancy he looked thin and a little yellow. Later in photographs, one could see the strain in his face, but it didn’t last. On the sea voyage, he had already gained some strength and the ability to take normal food.  In his diary, he had expressed the hope that he and Mum could take a holiday, just the two of them.  There would be time for this.  Meanwhile, they made the best possible decision which was to return to Mill Cottage for the seven weeks until Christmas.  Here they could share the peace and quiet, the beauty of the forest, and produce of farm and orchard, and the incomparable view down over the Severn’s horseshoe bend that had been such a solace to our mother.  As Tim and I came home for the Christmas holidays we all assembled once again at Granny’s house for the very memorable Christmas of 1945.

In my prayers for many years afterwards were the words “Thank you, God, for letting Daddy come home”.

Much later, in November 2010 and again in 2013 with his son Geoff, Tim flew out to Taiwan for memorial services organised by the Taiwan Prisoner of War Camps Memorial Society. Here they joined with other relatives in dedicating memorial plaques at the various prison campsites. At one of the camp services, Tim offered his own prayer “For those who were left behind”.

Also, in 2013 I attended the memorial service to those British prisoners who were brought home to Southampton in 1945.  Arranged by the group devoted to honouring the memory of the Far East Prisoners of War, the Repatriation Memorial in Town Quay Park is especially dedicated to those British prisoners who survived, and lists the 28 ships in which they were brought home.

Sue Blackwell 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Bill Frankland – Train Name Campaign

A campaign has been started to have ‘Dr Bill Frankland as a name for one of LNER’s ‘Azuma’ locomotives.

LNER are running the naming exercise through an online submission form which is open to anyone to make a submission through. Although not bound by the number of votes alone, it is hoped that the more forms submitted for a particular name, the more weight it will hold with the judging panel.

To lend your support to the campaign please nominate Dr Bill Frankland as a name through this web form: https://www.lner.co.uk/tickets-savings/savings-rewards/special-offers/current-competitions/azuma-birthday/ ) by the deadline which is Monday, 1st June.

“Echoes of Captivity”

by Louise Cordingly

When I was doing research into my father’s experiences as a POW in Changi and Thailand, I kept coming across other men and women who were also pursuing research into their own fathers’ stories in the same dedicated way.  So I began to wonder why we were all so driven, almost to the point of obsession and, I decided that it might be interesting to investigate further into my fellow researchers’ backgrounds and motivation.  Maybe there was a book in it?  It felt like a new angle on the FEPOW story: when the war ended and the men returned home, what  was that like for their families?*  How did the men adjust to the peacetime years following the brutality and deprivation of their years in captivity, and how had it had affected their children who were now in their 60s, 70s and 80s?

I put the word out on various FEPOW forums and to my surprise there was no shortage of people who volunteered to be interviewed and I also contacted various movers and shakers in the community.  Then, for about a year and a half, I travelled around the country or used Skype or Facetime to record their interviews.  I was amazed at the contributors’ willingness to be so honest in their accounts of their childhood and, for some, the effects of living with a damaged father.  I believe they trusted me to understand because they knew that I was also the daughter of a FEPOW.  I gathered thirty five interviews and then I decided that I also needed some professional observations on the mens’ trauma, so there is an appendix in the book with the thoughts of a GP who practised in the 50s, a therapist who specialises in working with trauma and torture survivors, and a professor who is running a MSc course called War and Psychiatry.

Thirty-five full length interviews amount to a lot of words – so I had to edit them all down into a manageable book length because I didn’t want to leave a single one of them out.  Then I sent each interviewee an edited transcript for them to check and approve.  This was an anxious time for me, but I needn’t have worried because the transcripts were returned with very few changes, mostly just points of fact.

There were various themes which ran through them all, such as the nightmares the men suffered, which terrified their children who were too young to understand.  The reluctance to talk about their experiences until they were much older, the heroism of the women who kept the households together and seemed to understand that many of the men suffered from undiagnosed PTSD. And the controversial theme of forgiveness: whether it was possible or necessary to forgive their captors.

The book covers quite a broad sweep of experiences, from the sad and the tragic to the amusing and the uplifting. I don’t think I recorded a single interview without a pause somewhere in the narration for tears.  I felt so privileged that these people were pouring their hearts out to me, maybe for the first time in such detail.  I was lucky to get to know so many members of the FEPOW ‘family’ who I can now count as friends.

My hope is that this vivid, eye-witness testimony, gathered together in one volume, will be a valuable addition to the archives of FEPOW research and knowledge.

 

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*Julie Summers’ book ‘Stranger in the House’, published in 2008, also covers this subject but with men returning from all theatres of war not only the Far East.  As the granddaughter of Sir Philip Toosey, she is also one of the interviewees in the book.

 

If you would like to contact Louise please do so through RFHG (researchingfepowhistory@gmail.com)

Dr Alfred William “Bill” Frankland, MBE

We are saddened to learn of the death of Dr Alfred William “Bill” Frankland MBE who passed away last night, 1 April 2020, aged 108.
Bill served as a captain in the RAMC during the Second World War. Captured in Singapore he remained there throughout captivity, first at Changi POW camp and later on Sentosa Island where he worked tirelessly to save lives. It was while a prisoner of war that his interest in allergy began. It was to become his life’s work: it was Bill who brought us the daily pollen count.
In 2012 Bill was the oldest FEPOW to contribute to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine’s FEPOW oral history project.
His remarkable story is told in From Hell Island to Hay Fever The Life of Dr Bill Frankland, written by Paul Watkins.

The Chindit Operations

Piers Storie-Pugh has travelled to Burma since 1985 and the Chindit Operations is one of his specialities; he has both written and made films about them. He regularly presents his talk “The Chindit Operations of Burma 1943-44”, which is supported by over 150 PowerPoint photographs, many never seen before.

From 1941 disaster followed disaster for Great Britain and her Empire and indeed for the Far East. The fall of Hong Kong on Christmas Day 1941, was followed by the fall of Malaya and the disastrous surrender of Singapore in February 1942. A failed expedition into the Arakan sealed the fate of the Allies at that time.

Field Marshall Wavell sent for Orde Wingate, who had made his name in Palestine and Eritrea and told him to look at the feasibility of long range penetration into Burma. Wingate therefore paid a visit to Mike Calvert, then commanding the Bush Warfare School in Maymyo, right up in the Shan Hills. Together they walked through the jungle discussing the tactics and this was to be the embryo of the Chindits. Wavell decided that all operations into Burma in 1943 should be stood down but Wingate persuaded him that his 3rd LRP Brigade was eager to go ahead. Thus, Operation Longcloth was launched! Commanded personally by Orde Wingate three thousand men and five hundred mules and horses, with air support left Imphal and marched eastwards in February 1943. Along the way they bumped into groups of Japanese, crossed the very fast flowing Chindwin, continued eastwards, cutting railway lines, blowing bridges and perfecting the art of air re-supply lines and met friendly local Burmese. The Japanese were perplexed by both the purpose and how the Chindits were sustained in the field.

Having crossed the Irrawaddy, one of the widest rivers in the world, they were at the extreme range of air supply and becoming boxed in by a swiftly reacting enemy. Imphal Army Headquarters ordered their return to India. Wingate broke up the groups and under their own arrangements headed westwards; some went north via China, others through NE Assam; but some never made it – they had run into the Japanese force, which had gone ahead expecting a follow up Chindit Operation.

Wingate had his enemies not least because Operation Longcloth was expensive in the loss of men and most of those who got back were in no fit state for another such long range expedition.

However, the exploits were given triumphant coverage by the press, eager for some good news and entranced PM Winston Churchill. Wingate was sent for and accompanied the PM to the Quebec Conference. There he shared his vision for future operations, thrilled the American Chiefs of Staff who in any case needed support for their own efforts in China and Wingate gained the promise of sufficient air power to raise five brigades for 1944.

Given this American support it was decided to fly in the Chindits by glider on Operation Thursday, but with Ferguson’s Brigade marching in alone; he did so to protect Stillwell’s right flank advancing from China, south towards Myitkyina.

The most successful Brigade Commander was undoubtedly Brigadier Mike Calvert DSO*. Flown into Broadway with his 3,000 men plus mules and horses, he advanced to Pagoda Hill which dominated the Japanese supply line from Mandalay northwards. He attacked the hill, established White City Fortress and caused havoc in the area. Ferguson, when he arrived after an extremely arduous advance, established Aberdeen; later Jack Masters established Blackpool.

Wingate visited Calvert, and had a wonderful few days meeting officers and soldiers from his old brigade, before flying on to Aberdeen to see Ferguson. Wingate was killed in a plane crash and so in many ways did his dream. However, Mountbatten said that by this time the 14th Army was ‘Chindit minded’.

The Chindits now came under command of the American General Vinegar Joe Stillwell. He hated the ‘Lazy Limies’ but had a huge respect for Wingate.

Without Wingate to protect them and with the gentlemanly Joe Lentaigne as Wingate’s successor, the Chindits were driven ruthlessly hard by Stillwell. He ordered Calvert to head north and capture Mogaung. Described as a mini Passchendaele this battle started on 6th June 1944 (!) and lasted nonstop for three weeks by which time Calvert had only 10% of his force fully fit. Nevertheless, the Chindits captured Mogaung with Chinese support. Suffering from wounds, sores, malaria and other afflictions, not least the demands from Stillwell, they were ordered by Mountbatten to be flown out to India.

The Chindits cut the essential Japanese supply lines to their troops facing Stillwell’s Army: blew up bridges, had fierce hand to hand medieval battles and slowed the Japanese advance towards Kohima and Imphal; causing them to be beleaguered the wrong side of the monsoon. The Chindits lit a flame of hope and did a huge amount to keep the American Chinese Army committed to the front.

Slim’s 14th Army drawn from Great Britain and many parts of the Empire, as well as local troops, may have been the Forgotten Army, but their exploits live on and have become the stuff of legend: The Chindits are right up there in this catalogue of astonishing achievements.

Even in the most atrocious conditions against a cruel enemy, thousands of miles from home, The Chindit Operations will live on in history as endeavours of extraordinary courage, cheek, panache and considerable sacrifice.

Those who were killed on that operation are buried or commemorated in the Htaukkyan War Cemetery or on the Rangoon Memorial. There are over five thousand graves and some twenty thousand names on the memorial – testament to the sacrifice in this Forgotten War.

Some of the Chindits captured were flung in Rangoon Goal and suffered similar dreadful ordeals of cruelty, hunger, beastings, disease and despair as their FEPOW comrades in The Far East.

The infamous Burma-Siam Railway pushed through Three Pagodas Pass, where it crossed the border, to reach Thanbyuziat where one will find the third  Commonwealth War Cemetery in Burma.

Mike Calvert returned to Burma just once and is seen here with Piers on top of Pagoda Hill which he stormed in March 1944.
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For talk or tour enquiries please contact pierss-p@virginmedia.com

UPDATE: 7th International Researching FEPOW History Conference Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine – June 2020

In the light of the growing worldwide uncertainty around the Coronavirus outbreak and its potential impact specifically upon the U.K. over the coming months, as well as in response to some concerns expressed by our delegates and speakers, the Researching FEPOW History Group has regrettably decided that we need to postpone the conference scheduled for June 2020. We have deliberated long and hard over this decision and we also consulted with our hosts, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

This news is of course very disappointing for everyone, especially in this 75th VJ Day anniversary year. However, with the growing uncertainty and anxiety expressed by some of the conference participants who have existing health concerns, we have little choice. We do not wish to put anyone at risk and we cannot run the conference without the required number of delegates and – of course – our team of expert speakers.

The good news is that the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) have agreed to host the postponed conference in June 2021 (the precise dates to be confirmed). We very much hope that everyone who had planned to attend the conference in June 2020 will be able to join us next year. More news will be posted on the Researching FEPOW History website https://fepowhistory.com/blog (https://fepowhistory.com/blog/)/ as soon as we have the details for 2021. Emails to all the delegates and speakers have been sent.

We would like to thank everyone for their support and understanding and we very much hope to see you in Liverpool in June 2021.

-The organising team of the Researching FEPOW History conference

On VJ Day 74: Letters between the generations

On the 74th anniversary of VJ Day, Ashley Prime writes for RFHG about his father, Lance Corporal Ashley Prime – a former prisoner of war in Singapore and Thailand – whose moving post-war letters have been published open access for all to read.

Ashley Prime
Lance Corporal Ashley Prime. Courtesy of Ashley Prime

I had of course always known that my father had been a Japanese Prisoner of War. I grew up with that always in our minds in our home, but it was never really seen as a negative. It was just there, and from my childhood, I recall kindly former colleagues of his visiting our home. They were always kind and I never felt any anger in the way they were. At least to me as a small child. 

Later in life, I was living in West Germany in my early twenties, and whilst back in London on holiday, I asked my father about the war and his experiences. He said he hadn’t really ever talked to me about it but did want to rectify that. We didn’t discuss anything further, but it was at that point that I started to receive a series of handwritten letters on A4 paper, over a period of around 18 months. He had been meticulous in keeping as many of the original documents as he had, including the postcards he had sent my mother, the only letter he had received from her and his record card. All in support of his letters.

And he wrote and wrote and wrote. Sadly he died in 1983 before he was able to complete his life story. He had written up to the mid 1950s and had therefore covered the fall of Singapore, captivity and liberation.

Ashley Prime’s letters can be accessed here: Ashley Prime: Calcutta to Singapore

 What did I take from the letters? And how did it change my view of my father? Firstly, there was throughout his letters a lack of anger, a lack of bitterness, with a pragmatic acceptance of his fate.  He said that ‘you will be back’ – the parting words from his wife – and ‘another life experience’ kept him going. 

 He had already said to me that forgiveness was one of the most difficult things to do. But holding on to bitterness eats us all away from the inside and doesn’t allow us to move on. And I think he did that with his captors, with the evidence of him giving them cigarettes, refraining from beating them and pitying them at the end of the war when the Japanese themselves became captives.

 And that is how I remember him. He was always kind, thoughtful, loving and caring. I rarely, if ever, saw him angry and he never raised his voice to me. I miss him today in 2019 as much as I do when he was here. 

 

All words © Ashley Prime, 2019.